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Erdoğan praises Kosovo operation, promises more abductions

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday expressed satisfaction with an operation to abduct six Turkish nationals linked to the Gülen movement in Kosovo carried out by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization and vowed to bring all people affiliated with the movement to Turkey in similar operations.

“Our National Intelligence Organization, in cooperation with Kosovo’s intelligence agency, got six high level members of FETÖ [a derogatory term coined by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to describe the Gülen movement] in the Balkans and handed them over to our police,” Erdoğan said during a meeting with ruling AKP provincial chairpersons in Ankara.

“Wherever they are, we will package them up and bring them [to Turkey], God willing,” he added.

On Thursday morning Kosovo police arrested six Turkish nationals, one doctor and five educators working at a group of schools affiliated with the faith–based Gülen movement.

The arrest created a political crisis in Kosovo. Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on Friday dismissed the interior minister and the secret service chief.

Haradinaj on Thursday said: “The entire operation — revoking their residence permits, detention, emergency deportation and the secret extradition to Turkey of the six Turkish citizens from Kosovo territory — was conducted without my knowledge and without my permission.”

“I will act in accordance with constitutional requirements,” added Haradinaj.

President Hashin Thaci also commented the developments.

“Today we are disappointed because our relevant institutions, for reasons that remain to be clarified to the end, have failed to defend these principles related to the human rights of foreign nationals who live and work in our country. I am informed by the competent authorities after the event that six citizens were deported today to Turkey on the grounds that they did not have a residence permit in Kosovo.”

“We have been facing enormous pressure from the Turkish authorities in the past weeks to take actions against Gülen schools and their staff,” a senior Kosovo government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Leutrim Syla, a lawyer representing the six arrested Turkish citizens, said late on Thursday that his clients were still in Kosovo, calling on Kosovar leaders to stop their deportation to Turkey.

“Regardless of Turkish media coverage, we have received credible information that our clients Orhan Özkan and 5 other Turkish citizens are being kept Kosovo and have not been transferred to Turkey yet,” Syla said in a written statement on Twitter.

“We look forward political leadership of Kosovo to step up and show leadership by stopping this deportation if our clients are still in Kosovo as mentioned. We are very concerned and worried about the safety of our clients,” he added.

Syla underlined that his clients — Cihan Ozkan, Kahraman Demirez, Hasan Huseyin Gunakan, Mustafa Erdem, Osman Karakaya and Yusuf Karabina — will most likely face torture or ill treatment and harsh punishment if they are deported to Turkey.

Months ago, Kosovo police arrested Uğur Toksoy, an educator with alleged links to the Gülen movement. Kosovo has not extradited Toksoy to Turkey, but the ordeal still sent shock waves throughout Kosovo’s Turkish community, some of whom told the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) that they fled to Kosovo hoping to escape Turkey’s crackdown on the press and individuals and groups with ties to the movement.

The Gülistan Educational Institutions operate four Mehmet Akif elementary and high schools in Kosovo. The schools were opened by Turkish entrepreneurs inspired by the views of Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Turkish President Erdoğan and his ruling AKP government pursued a crackdown on the Gülen movement following corruption operations in December 2013 in which the inner circle of the government and then-Prime Minister Erdoğan were implicated.

Erdoğan also accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016.

Despite the movement strongly denying involvement in the coup attempt, Erdoğan launched a witch-hunt targeting the movement following the putsch.

A total of 62,895 people were detained in 2017 as part of investigations into the movement, according to Interior Ministry reports.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Jan. 5 said 48,305 people were jailed in 2017 alone over Gülen movement links.

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